Talking Environmental and Social Justice with the CEO of BOMA Jewelry

BOMA Jewelry is a second-generation company in Seattle that has made headlines in Forbes, Vanity Fair, and British Vogue for its elegant, minimalist adornments and also for its fiercely consistent community-first business approach.

Its efforts can be funneled into two categories: people and planet. On the people side, BOMA has created grant programs for BIPOC jewelers, donated funds to social justice causes, and created a BOMA Girl Fund that benefits workers and their families who make BOMA jewelry. On the planet side, the company has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030, reduced its use of plastic bags by 500,000, and switched to sustainable packaging for online orders. And all of this is just scratching the surface.

In an economy that’s racing to become more eco- and human-friendly, BOMA Jewelry has a 40-year history of operating by those metrics. We wanted to know more, so we chatted with CEO Suzanne Vetillart.

It has been a challenging year. How are you doing?

Everyone is going through a lot. In all honesty, I’m overwhelmed. We’re in the midst of many new exciting opportunities and changes, but it does take a lot of energy to manage this. I balance my overwhelm by knowing that our company is in a unique position to simply grow less fast when we need to in order to adjust to the changes in a more sustainable way.

You’ve had a busy year, working on sustainability-centered changes to BOMA and releasing two social justice jewelry collections. What has fueled you?

When I first started to educate myself about our honest environmental footprint, I learned that this requires us to take a deeper look at social issues and how people are treated with equity (or not) in our business. These are heavy issues, but because we are committed to focusing on our business footprint and continually improving, we break it down, face the ugly truths, and work on them from there. The exciting part is that the deeper we look into these areas of our direct impact, the more we find the ways we can do something positive, and the more we do them.

One of these areas that we needed to do better was our connection or (lack thereof) to Black jewelry designers. Our BIPOC grant program came from a realization that we had never worked with a Black jewelry designer in our 40-year history, and that we needed to face that and change it.

What made you decide to create the items that stand in solidarity with Black and Asian American and Pacific Islander lives?

I don’t think I anticipated these things one or two years ago, partly because I didn’t always have the courage to step into what makes us different and unique as a company.

I think letting go of this and just telling our authentic story, or talking about what we wanted to talk about, is what has led us to projects that we feel sincere and care deeply for. For us, it’s social justice moments or talking about things like the environment. As an (Asian American and Pacific Islander)-owned business, I recognize that sharing my parents’ immigrant story with the fact that they never thought they could be the face of their own company speaks really loudly today.

In BOMA’s recent sustainability report, it reinforces plans to be net-zero by 2030. How does BOMA plan to accomplish that, and why it is important?

We recognized that our largest emissions were coming from our production process and the fossil fuels used for powering our production facilities. I am really excited that this year we are switching to 100 percent solar at our factory. Conservatively, we’ve forecasted that in one year, we will save the equivalent of over 436 metric tons of CO2 (the equivalent of more than 1.05 million miles driven by a passenger car). From this we will keep working to bring down emissions while also offsetting when necessary. Currently we provide carbon offsets for our online customers’ purchases, and something I’m very proud of is that 18 percent of our customers actually use it and pay extra for it. This really blew my mind but demonstrates that our customers are motivated beyond just lowest prices. Other projects we are excited about are planting mangroves in Southeast Asia. No other ecosystem is able to store as much carbon as mangrove forests. Mangrove trees can absorb double and quadruple the amount of carbon dioxide, so planting mangrove trees or preventing them from being cleared is important when tackling our climate issues.

Does BOMA have roots in social justice and sustainability work? Or is this something you brought to the company as a second-generation owner?

One value I learned from living in Thailand from the people and culture is the importance of respect and balance. The majority of our employees in Thailand are Buddhist and practice ethics of no harm to others. Today we talk about “sustainability,” but my parents always sought to run a business that practiced respect for people and the environment. Sustainability is a buzzy word today; however, for us, it represents our long-term commitments to doing things better and with respect for people and planet always.

Want to purchase a piece from the This Matters collection? Visit here. If you’re looking for the Treasured Collection, visit here.

Flash Response

I like to start my day with … coffee, preferably by Hagen Coffee Roasters.

One item I can’t live without is … my passport, being on the go and traveling the world.

I feel powerful when … I see my kids being kind and loving to one another.

Best advice I ever received was: When you hear something negative, believe it halfway. When you hear something positive, believe it 100 percent.

My favorite book is … I just finished reading Minor Feelings by Cathy Hong Park. Wow!

Right now, I’m watching: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

My go-to clothing brand is: Theory.

is a contributing writer.
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